The most conspicuous piece of furnishings at Dept of Culture Brooklyn, a new Nigerian restaurant in Bed-Stuy, is the communal desk. It’s constructed of stable oak and monopolizes the ground area. The small room is the positioning of a former barbershop; you possibly can inform by the numerous shops that also line its partitions, which at the moment are ornamented with images of the owner-chef Ayo Balogun’s family members in Nigeria. The lighting is heat and dim. An vintage file participant spins Fela Kuti and different eminences of nineteen-seventies Afrobeat. And there, in an open kitchen, is Balogun himself, bopping to protest songs as he cooks, for a dozen patrons per seating, 4 programs, all impressed by the delicacies of his native Kwara State.
The tasting menu morphs primarily based on what’s in inventory at African markets round city.
The ambiance he’s attempting to conjure is that of a buka, a usually informal eatery that’s ubiquitous in Nigeria. After two years of social distancing, banqueting on pounded yam and delectably salty mackerel alongside unmasked strangers nonetheless feels barely indecent, if undeniably great. “I feel like Boris Johnson,” Balogun mentioned the opposite day. “Every night here is a party.” For now, Dept of Culture is open solely fourteen hours a week, and reservations are required. You join one of the week’s seven two-hour blocks, present up on time, and make your method via the identical sequence of dishes as your fellow-diners. Balogun employs a hostess-waitress and a dishwasher to assist preserve tempo, however he does all of the cooking himself, with solely probably the most important gear: two induction burners, a blender, a meals processor, a KitchenAid mixer, and a convection oven.
The fish pepper soup, a staple of Nigerian beer parlors, is flavored with thyme, cilantro, and ata rodo, one of the most popular chilies wherever.
With every course, Balogun emerges from the kitchen and provides a bit of context on the meals’s origin and significance. A current night commenced with a scorching fish pepper soup, a staple of beer parlors that’s meant to be loved with lager or stout. (Balogun, a teetotaller for a few years, has a provide of complimentary wine, principally South African, and a B.Y.O.B. coverage for the whole lot else.) The soup is flavored with thyme, cilantro, and ata rodo, one of the most popular chilies wherever; Balogun makes use of one or two peppers for a complete batch. On this evening, he used succulent chunks of swordfish, however typically swaps in catfish, pink snapper, or tilapia.
Balogun makes use of unpasteurized cow milk to organize wara—spongy fried curds—which he serves heat and wearing a red-pepper sauce known as obe ata.
The menu morphs primarily based on what’s in inventory at African markets round city. Balogun will cross state traces for sure elements. There are strict prohibitions across the promoting of uncooked milk in New York, so he drives over to lawless Connecticut for the true stuff. “I feel like I’m buying drugs every time I go there,” he says. “Come on, guys—it’s just milk!” With gallons of discreetly bought unpasteurized cow milk, he prepares wara, spongy fried curds served heat and wearing a red-pepper sauce known as obe ata. It pairs properly with gbegiri, a wealthy and funky stew made with fermented locust beans.
Another recurring dish is suya, a standard avenue meals consisting of steak strips which can be tossed with yaji, a aromatic and fiery spice combine, then skewered, grilled, and offered on sheets of newspaper. For his yaji, Balogun deploys a proprietary mix of spices that his mom introduced over from Nigeria on a current go to, together with ginger, roasted groundnuts, and turmeric. Breaking with custom, he makes use of octopus or trumpet mushrooms in place of beef and balances the dish’s warmth with chilled cucumber slices.
Balogun has supplied his area to different Nigerian cooks within the metropolis, as a platform to showcase their very own regional fare.
Nigeria is dwelling to greater than 200 and fifty ethnic teams and twice as many languages; the choices at Dept of Culture signify however a small pattern of the nation’s meals. Balogun has signed a ten-year lease and plans to increase his tasting menu to cowl the cuisines of different states. He’s contemplating happening a variety of sabbatical to Nigeria to check with assorted cooks and esteemed dwelling cooks, however, for now, he has determined to supply his area to different Nigerian cooks within the metropolis, as a platform for them to showcase their very own regional fare. “I already have some aunties lined up,” he mentioned. (Prix-fixe dinner $75.) ♦